Halloween decorations light up local communities

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Andrea Anderson
Thursday, October 24, 2013

The winter holidays aren't the only time of year when inflatable figures occupy front yards and thousands of lights illuminate houses. Halloween is becoming an increasingly popular reason for residents to deck their yards with pumpkins and fake webs.

In some instances, Halloween even leads to friendly competition among neighbors.

Rich Schroeder has been decorating his Elkhorn home for Halloween for two years.

“When I have a project in mind, I'm completely obsessed with it,” Schroeder said.

He calls his project the Elkhorn Light Show and uses the decorations to brighten the neighborhood and raise money for the Elkhorn Fire Department, where he volunteers. 

Starting the first week of October, residents can drive up to Schroeder's home at 843 Chelsea Drive each night and watch a 10-minute light show choreographed to music on 88.5 FM. The show begins at 6 p.m. and lasts until 9:30 p.m Sunday through Thursday. On Fridays and Saturdays, it goes until 10:30 p.m.

“People get out of the car, start singing and dancing,” Schroeder said.  “I enjoy it. I spend a lot of time setting up, and I like seeing people enjoy it.”

This year, he spent 35 hours decorating his lawn with spooky items such as a zombie emerging from the ground, inflatable ghosts creeping out of an inflatable cauldron and about 10,000 white, red, blue and orange lights.

Schroeder has raised more than $800 for the fire department and invested about $5,000 to $6,000 in the show, and he doesn't plan to stop.

“I don't see any anticipation of slowing down,” Schroeder said. “In fact, I am in negotiations with my spouse in regards to upgrading the light equipment for next year.”

The Halloween light show runs through Oct. 31. On the morning of Nov. 1, the spooky decorations will come down to make way for Schroeder's firefighter-themed Christmas light show that will run Dec. 1 through Dec. 31.

Schroeder said Halloween will never be as big as Christmas, but the holiday allows him to choreograph his show with more mainstream music compared to the classic Christmas carols and tunes.

Tanya Utzig, who has decorated her home in Janesville for the last five years, agrees that Halloween isn't as big as Christmas.

During the Christmas season, Utzig said, people can see her house from the Interstate, while her decorations are more subdued for Halloween.

However, Utzig said, more of her neighbors have joined in since she started decorating her house at 406 Park Ave., and the decorations have fostered a competitive Halloween spirit with one of her neighbors.

“It brightens up the neighborhood,” Utzig said. “Our other neighborhoods didn't do a lot of decorating, and now everyone on this block does something at least.”

The Utzig house and lawn are covered in spider webs; the front yard is a cemetery with a coffin and strobe lights, and she plans to add more.

“We have a couple ghouly looking things, 'Happy Halloween' signs, 'trick-or-treat' signs, and pumpkins have to be carved,” Utzig said.

Ken Iverson, her neighbor and friendly competitor, has a lawn filled with Halloween decorations, including headstones, a handmade guillotine and skulls marking the perimeter, and more is yet to come.

Iverson said he began decorating his lawn 10 years ago for his daughter and since then has built or added something new each year.

“I like Halloween. I always have,” Iverson said. “It's an adult holiday where you do the kid things at nine or 10, and then I go out.”

When asked who won the decorating competition, Utzig said she thinks she did because she “went a little farther this year.”

Iverson gave Utzig credit for the coffin, headstones and Grim Reaper but ultimately crowned himself the winner.

“They don't have anything original,” Utzig said. “I still think they have a ways to go.”

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